Wednesday, January 25, 2012

One Word

You don’t really think about the power of words unto you consider how the meaning of one word can influence our understanding of big important concepts. Let’s look at the word church. This word is interesting because we throw it around so loosely and most people don’t give much thought to what it means or where it comes from. We go to church. We meet in a church. We are members of a church. Three different sentences and the word has three different meanings, but there are more than three. When we consider that the Bible used the word church many times, we might start to realize that our whole concept of what a church is may be very different based on which definition we use.

If you say, “I went to church on Sunday,” you probably mean that you went to a worship service of some sort. There’s nothing particularly wrong with using church in that way, since it gets the point across. The problem is that if we use that definition when we reader where Jesus says, “Upon this rock I will build my church,” we might get the impression that he is saying, “Upon this rock I will design my worship service.” Of if we see church as a building, then it seems to make sense for Jesus to say, “Upon this rock I will build my building.” But we’ve all heard from our childhood that the church is the people, not the building. We’ve heard it, but can we prove it?

The word church comes from the Greek word kyriakon which meant “of the Lord” and was used in the form kyriakon doma, meaning “the Lord’s house”. So, in that sense, the word church more correctly refers to the building than the people who meet there. But the word is used in out English Bibles. How can that be? My best guess is that the people who met in the church buildings became so closely associated with the building that people began to use the term interchangeably. So rather than translate the word ekklesia with its original meaning, the translators used the word church. If you want to understand the Bible, everywhere you see the word church, you should remember that it is used in the place of the word ekklesia.

Back when Jesus was using the word, ekklesia already had a meaning. It isn’t a word that he coined, but rather a word he chose because it most closely resembled the organization he organized. In those days, the word ekklesia referred to an assembly. If there was a city council, ekklesia would have been a proper word to use to refer to that body. This is where start to see where our definition of the word church can influence our doctrine.

One common usage of the word church today is to refer to all of the Christians in all of the world. Obviously, it is not possible for all Christians in all of the world to assemble in one place, so it would not be proper to call that church an ekklesia, but we sometimes find that people try to take what the Bible says about the ekklesia and apply it all of the Christian in all of the world. This is sad. I’m no different from anyone else. I would love for the whole family of God to get along. What makes it sad is that when people see church as being all Christians it dilutes the power of what God has said to the individual churches. Look at I Corinthians 12:28, “and God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets,…” Taken out of context and with a large scale view of church, it would be easy to think this verse is talking about how that in the large body of all Christians there are different kinds of workers. While that is true, what it is actually saying is that God placed these people in the church at Corinth. We extrapolate from that that he pays just as much attention to our own local church. If that were not the case, it would be possible for there to be a church full of teachers and no one to do anything else.

How different our doctrines may be based on how we define one little word.